A few weeks ago, my husband Jeff and I drove up into the mountains. We were looking forward to a quick, off-the-grid getaway to one of our favorite camping spots. As we were driving along Highway 38 heading toward Big Bear, it was sadly apparent that the aftermath of a recent fire was still an issue for this mountain community. A large swath of scorched landscape provided a dismal sight on both sides of the road. Turn after turn was an endless view of blackened soot and flattened forest. Work crews and firefighters with large equipment were shoring up unstable areas in preparation for the forecasted rain just days away.

“What a difficult couple of years this has been,” we commented to each other. “So much loss for so many. It will be decades before there is regrowth here . . .” Silent contemplation for both of us the next few miles. The Lord reminded me of a beloved truth from Scripture of His goodness.

You crown the year with bounty; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. – Psalm 65:11

the hard path . . .

We continued driving, quietly taking in the desolate scene around us. Fifteen minutes later we reached a higher elevation, beyond the fires. It was clear! Cool mountain air. Blue skies. Puffy white clouds. Sunshine beaming down through fragrant pine trees. This land was sweetly familiar and still intact. The beauty we remembered and craved. Such joy!

We settled into our favorite campsite with a renewed sense of thankful anticipation. The next few days were simply perfect and restorative. Until we got an emergency notification on our phone . . . “Mandatory Evacuation Warning! Flooding and mudslides possible.”

Our time of rest and relaxation had been perfect—just what we’d hoped for and needed—while it lasted. But circumstances quickly changed and nothing was in our control. We had no choice but to heed the warning if we wanted to be safe. We quickly packed up our gear and began heading home, so disappointed.

from frustration to faith . . .

Driving back down the mountain our conversation shifted from frustration to faith. From disappointment to thankfulness for the safety warning. We relinquished our plans for that getaway and thought about what we should do instead with the remainder of our weekend. There was no mistaking the fact that the Lord was directing our steps back down the mountain!

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9

In the days following that camping trip, the Lord used the visual illustration of that mountain to speak to my heart. Causing me to intentionally look beyond challenging circumstances—whether it be a minor disappointment or severe, fiery trial—to uncover His beauty. To see His goodness. His protection and providing a path to safety.

This side of heaven, we know that life is filled with disappointments, change and uncertainty. The scale of difficulty touches both ends of the spectrum from a temporary obstacle to overwhelming grief. The stress of these will tax our strength, potentially robbing us of inner joy and peace.

It takes intentional effort to bring our thoughts to a place of resting in the Lord’s goodness through it all. It comes down to a question of faith . . . will I trust God and believe there’s a purpose in all that He allows even when I can’t see it?

Knowing that His ways are higher than mine and beyond my understanding . . . will I choose to trust Him in the midst of difficulty and trials? Will I hold onto the truth of Isaiah 61:3 that God does indeed give a crown of beauty for ashes?

beyond the ashes . . .

Think about that. Where ashes are, there has to have been a fire. Something has burned down. But what was true of that singed and scarred mountain we drove through? The mountain was still standing! And the One who formed that mountain is still on the throne. There was a road carved through the fire that led to beauty and a path of safety to escape the flood.

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! – Psalm 121:1-2

Just as those firefighters and work crew were standing guard, ready to put down any remaining hot spots that could reignite the flames, we need to do the same with our thoughts.

When conflicts or fears arise, stand guard! Bring every thought captive and listen to what Jesus would say to you. Let’s train our minds to quickly go straight to what is true.

Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable, and right and pure, and lovely and admirable. Think about what is excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

a crown of bounty . . .

The nugget of gold to my heart in all of this was summed up in that verse the Lord brought to mind as we drove up the mountain. You crown the year with bounty…

David penned Psalm 65, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It’s a hymn of thanksgiving. What was David singing praise to God for?

For saving him. Forgiving him. For giving him grace to access God in prayer. David sang for the joy and hope that is ours when we draw near to our Savior. He praised our powerful, mighty God who created and sustains everything. He provides all that we need, the rain and soil, for a healthy harvest. David’s song reminds us that all of creation—including us!—can sing and shout for joy because God crowns the year with HIS goodness.

A crown encircles. On every side and from every angle, God surrounds us with His never-ending goodness.

Has this been a difficult season for you? The answer for all of us is likely yes. In one way or another, there has been fire and ashes. But David sings with gratitude for God’s faithfulness and matchless power. What God has allowed, He goes before us to lead, to provide, to protect.

This Thanksgiving, can we say that 2022 has truly been a year of goodness? Perhaps not in the way we expected or hoped for, but will we choose to look beyond the ashes and see His goodness with eyes of faith? While you may be looking through tear-filled eyes, remember that He collects those tears and He understands your sorrow. His mercies are new every morning.

My prayer for you, and myself too, is to see beyond the ashes with eyes of faith. The mountain still stands. Let our offering be a sacrifice of praise for His promises and the hope that we have in Him, come what may. He is worthy of all our praise!

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever. – Psalm 118:29